U.S. Government Cover-Up of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

From SourceWatch
Revision as of 11:26, 12 August 2010 by Jill Richardson (Talk | contribs)

(diff) ←Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision→ (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search

The Deepwater Horizon was an offshore drilling rig owned by Transocean and leased to BP. On April 20, 2010, the rig exploded killing eleven. Two days later, the rig sank, and oil began to gush from the well. The resulting oil spill has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history by President Barack Obama and others.[1] The oil continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico until August. Following the spill, BP released millions of gallons of toxic oil dispersants, notably Corexit 9500, a chemical banned in the United Kingdom, into the Gulf of Mexico. The use of toxic dispersants made the spill more persistent and more difficult to clean up than it would have otherwise been, but served to remove the oil from the view of TV cameras and make it harder to measure, thus limiting BP's liability for the spill. In the aftermath of the oil spill, the U.S. government covered up and spun a number of stories related to the oil spill, including the toxicity of the dispersants, the volume of the spill, the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the safety of Gulf seafood, and the safety of workers cleaning up the spill.

There is some suspicion that the Obama Administration's relatively weak stance toward BP and complicity in covering up the full magnitude of environmental harm done by the spill is due to influence on the administration by Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the largest shareholder of BP at the time of the spill.

Suppression of Scientists

University of South Florida scientists found an enormous oil plume about a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up.[2] When they announced their finding, the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agencies that sponsored their research, asked them to retract their public announcement. Vernon Asper, an oceanographer at the University of Southern Mississippi, "was part of a similar effort that met with a similar reaction," according to the St. Petersburg Times.[3] He says NOAA responded by trying to discredit him.

Lowball Estimates of Amount of Oil Leaked

BP's liability is directly related to the amount of oil discharged into the Gulf. Therefore, BP has an incentive to convince the government and the public that very little oil has entered the Gulf from the well. In the early days of the leak, a headline read "BP Says 1,000 Barrels of Oil Leaking Daily From Gulf Well[4] However, the article attributes the estimate to both BP and the Coast Guard, who was either accepting BP's number without question or doing a very poor job assessing the magnitude of the spill. From there, the estimates increased to 5000 by the end of the month. Already independent scientists told newspapers that the spill was much greater than that, perhaps 25,000 barrels per day.[5] Government estimates ballooned to 12,000, then 19,000 barrels, and then, in June, to 20,000 to 40,000 barrels. By June 15, the official estimate rose to 35,000 to 60,000 barrels per day.[6]

According to government estimates from August 1, 2010, at its peak, the well gushed 62,200 barrels of oil per day. The flow decreased to 52,700 barrels per day on July 14, totaling an estimated 4.9 million barrels before BP placed a cap on the well on July 14, 2010. Only 800,000 barrels were captured, diverting them from flowing into the ocean.[7][8]

Downplaying the Toxicity of the Dispersants

White House energy adviser Carol Browner famously compared oil dispersants to using dish soap to clean oily pans in the sink.[9]

The EPA defended BP's release of dispersants in the Deepwater Horizon spill, insisting that the mixture of oil and dispersants are no more toxic to two marine species (mysid shrimp, Americamysis bahia, and inland silverside, Menidia beryllina) tested than oil alone. Also, they maintain that Corexit is "generally no more or less toxic" than other available dispersants.[10] In a letter to the EPA, Rep. Jerrold Nadler challenged their statements, asking about a Swedish study, that used EPA's data but found that "a mixture of oil and dispersant give rise to a more toxic effect on aquatic organisms than oil and dispersants do alone."[11]

The Government's "Approval" Process for Dispersants

The Coast Guard and others frequently referred to the dispersants as "approved," implying their safety. However, the so-called list of approved chemicals, the EPA's National Contingency Plan Product Schedule was treated by the Coast Guard and others as an "approved" list, was no such thing. It was more or less simply a list of available dispersants on the market. First, a manufacturer would nominate itself and provide data to indicate that its product(s) are effective. Although the manufacturers also had to vouch for the safety of their products, there was no threshold of toxicity that would disqualify a product from inclusion in the EPA's list.[12]

White House Claim That 75 Percent of the Oil is Gone

In August 2010, White House energy advisor Carol Browner claimed that "about 75 percent of the oil had either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf of Mexico."[13] Even with this estimate, the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf equaled nearly five times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. Browner cheerfully noted that ""Mother Nature will do her part, but we'll continue to be vigilant to ensure anything that comes on shore, the tar balls, the sheen, is cleaned up rapidly."[14] Scientists refuted this claim as spin. For example, John Kessler of Texas A&M University said, "Recent reports seem to say that about 75% of the oil is taken care of and that is just not true... The fact is that 50% to 75% of the material that came out of the well is still in the water. It's just in a dissolved or dispersed form."[15] Ian McDonald, a Florida State scientist specializing in the marine ecology of Gulf oil rigs, added "There's some science here, but mostly it's spin, and it breaks my heart to see them do it."[16] Susan Shaw, a marine toxicologist and director of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, said, "The blanket statement that the public understood is that most of the oil has disappeared. That is not true. About 50% of it is still in the water."[17] Rick Steiner, a former University of Alaska marine biologist, said, "It seems that there was a rush to declare this done, and there were obvious political objectives there... Even if there is not a drop of oil out there, and it had truly magically vanished, it would still be an environmental disaster caused by the toxic shock of the release of 5m barrels of oil."[18]

The actual NOAA report accounts for the estimated 4,928,100 barrels of oil spilled from the well as follows:[19]

  • Recovered by BP: 827,046 barrels (16.8%)
  • Dispersed naturally (not by chemical dispersants): 763,948 barrels (15.5%)
  • Evaporated or Dissolved: 1,243,732 barrels (25.2%)
  • Chemically dispersed: 408,792 barrels (8.3%)
  • Burned: 265,450 barrels (5.4%)
  • Skimmed: 165,293 barrels (3.4%)
  • Remaining: 1,253,839 barrels (25.4%)

According to this breakdown, a total of 4,101,054 barrels were spilled into the Gulf. Of that, 165,293 barrels were skimmed, leaving 3,935,791 barrels in the Gulf. Another 1,509,182 barrels were burned or evaporated or dissolved, leaving the Gulf but polluting the air. Still, that leaves a total of 2,426,609 barrels in the water or in the wetlands along the shoreline, or half of the amount spilled overall. That oil, dispersed or not, is still there. The remaining 2.4 million barrels in the water and wetlands is equal to nearly ten times the amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.[20]

The Safety of Gulf Seafood

By July 2010, researchers began finding "specks of oil" in crab larvae of blue crab from the Gulf coast. Biologist Bob Thomas of Loyola University in New Orleans said the finding, "would suggest the oil has reached a position where it can start moving up the food chain instead of just hanging in the water...Something likely will eat those oiled larvae ... and then that animal will be eaten by something bigger and so on." As of August 2010, researchers did not yet know whether the crabs also contained any of the oil dispersants used in the spill.[21] At the same time the researchers were finding and reporting on oil found in crabs, President Barack Obama served Gulf seafood at his birthday party to prove its safety to the nation.[22] The FDA claims that the seafood is safe to eat and free of any oil or dispersants.[23]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Remarks by the President to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill, Office of the Press Secretary, June 15, 2010
  2. Craig Pittman, "USF says government tried to squelch their oil plume findings", St. Petersburg Times, August 10, 2010, Accessed August 11, 2010
  3. Craig Pittman, "USF says government tried to squelch their oil plume findings", St. Petersburg Times, August 10, 2010, Accessed August 11, 2010
  4. Peter J. Brennan and Jim Polson, "BP Says 1,000 Barrels of Oil Leaking Daily From Gulf Well", Business Week, April 25, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010.
  5. Ian Talley, "Experts: Oil May Be Leaking at Rate of 25,000 Barrels a Day in Gulf ", Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  6. Joel Achenbach and David Fahrenthold"Oil-spill flow rate estimate surges to 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day", Washington Post, June 15, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  7. Erika Bolstad and Lesley Clark, "Government revises Gulf oil flow estimate to 62,000 barrels a day", Fresno Bee, August 2, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010.
  8. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Deepwater Horizon MC252 Gulf Incident Oil Budget, August 2, 2010
  9. Kate Shepherd and David Corn, "Hey EPA: How Are Those Dispersant Tests Going?", Mother Jones, June 23, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010.
  10. Ben Gemen, "House Dem questions EPA dispersant defense", The Hill, August 6, 2010.
  11. Ben Gemen, "House Dem questions EPA dispersant defense", The Hill, August 6, 2010.
  12. Jonathan Tilove, "EPA official defends role of dispersants in Gulf of Mexico oil spill response", NOLA.com, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010.
  13. "U.S. Says 75% of Oil Gone, but Skeptics Remain", CBS News, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010
  14. "U.S. Says 75% of Oil Gone, but Skeptics Remain", CBS News, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010
  15. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Gulf oil spill: White House accused of spinning report", The Guardian, August 5, 2010.
  16. "U.S. Says 75% of Oil Gone, but Skeptics Remain", CBS News, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010
  17. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Gulf oil spill: White House accused of spinning report", The Guardian, August 5, 2010.
  18. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Gulf oil spill: White House accused of spinning report", The Guardian, August 5, 2010.
  19. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Deepwater Horizon MC252 Gulf Incident Oil Budget, August 2, 2010
  20. "Gulf oil spill is worst in U.S. history, estimates suggest", CNN, May 27, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  21. John Flesher, "Crabs provide evidence oil tainting Gulf food web", Associated Press, August 9, 2010, Accessed August 9, 2010
  22. Kim Landers, "Obama plans barbecue to restore Gulf of Mexico seafood confidence", Radio Australia News, August 9, 2010, Accessed August 9, 2010
  23. "FDA Says Eat Gulf Seafood; Some Doubt Smell Test", NPR, August 3, 2010, Accessed August 9, 2010.

External resources

External articles